London's Victoria and Albert Museum presents Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. This major exhibition highlights the sexual and sensual appeal of every type of undergarment while looking at the practicalities of underwear.
Who were the entrepreneurs, the inventors and the innovators? What were the technical advances that allowed such invention and innovation and led to the success of the entrepreneurs? When did underwear change from being an important item for health and hygiene to a body enhancing necessity? How does cut, fit, fabric and decoration reveal issues of gender, sex and morality? What is the erotic role of underwear? When did undergarments become over garments worn to exhilarate and excite? What is the relationship between underwear and fashion? This exhibition answers these questions and much more.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear - the Highlights
More than two hundred items are on display, Credit: Undress: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Avent Provocateur and Revlon, V&A (16 April 2016-12 March 1027). Copyright image by Frances Spiegel, all rights reserved.including corsets, crinolines, bustles, boxer shorts, bras, hosiery, garters, lingerie and lounge wear together with fashion plates, photographs, packaging and advertisements.
The exhibition features items by designers such as Calvin Klein, John Galliano, Cadolle, Fifi Chachnil, Agent Provocateur, aussieBum, Brynje, Elsa Schiaparelli, Stella McCartney, La Perla, Rigby & Peller, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Poiret and many others.
Credit: Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, V&A, (16 April 2016-12 March 2017)The item that most interested me is a corset by Mr Pearl, designed for burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese. The Swarovski crystal-embellished corset is part of a sparkling yellow gown, also by Mr Pearl. Von Teese calls it “The Canary”. Mr Pearl describes the process of creating a corset as “an intimate collaboration between maker and wearer. The couture corset maker understands the body's anatomy and has the flexibility and empathy to realise each client's special requirements.”
For me, other highlights are drawers believed to have been worn by Queen Victoria's mother, a French-style hooped petticoat, 18th century 'stays' for a working woman, and a 1960s' body stocking by Mary Quant mainly because I remember wearing just such a garment.
The Corset Controversy
Credit: Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, V&A (16 April 2016-12 March 2016)Credit: Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, V&A (16 April 2016-12 March 2017)Undressed explores some of the controversies surrounding corsets and tight lacing. It was fashionable in the 1890s to have a very slender waist with full hips and bust. When fully laced this corset measures just 48 centimetres whereas our modern-day size 12 measures 71 centimetres.
This whalebone and cotton corset dating from the 1890s,with a waist under 19 inches in circumference, is shown together with x-rays and illustrations showing how such highly restrictive garments impacted on the body. In the 19th and early 20th century doctors blamed many ailments on tight corsets.
These x-rays of a live model show how corset wearing changes the position of the ribs and restricts the movement of the diaphragm. Undressed also shows how corsets were also recommended to improve medical conditions and posture.
Developing the Bra
Question: What did the top hat say to the bra? Answer: You go on ahead and I'll give these two a lift. We might laugh at that old joke but Undressed takes the issue very seriously exploring the development of the bra throughout the 20th century. The exhibition features some very striking advertisements for latex corsetry by 1930s brand Chamaux, a 1950s Playtex rubber girdle and Spanx designs from 2010.Credit: Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, V&A (16 April 2016-12 March 2017)
Alluring, Playful, Seductive
Undressed shows how corsetry and lingerie are designed to be seductive, playful and alluring through items such as this silk slip by Carine Gilson. The display is accompanied by a 2 minute film of the slip being made in Gilson's atelier.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Undressed, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, is curated by Edwina Uhrman, curator of Textiles and Fashion at the V&A. The exhibition runs from 16th April 2016 to 12th March 2017 and tickets and further information are available from the museum.
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Getting to the Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London, UK